There was a focus to the Wanderers now that they had found their own path to the Monarchs’ home, and they didn’t feel afraid of what was ahead. They all knew there were others following them, like bloodhounds on the scent of a criminal, but that only served to make them move faster and smarter. They weren’t going to let fear destroy them.
Jeriah kept sensing that Jakob was close as well, even closer than the castle they were heading towards, so he wondered if his brother was following his path. He would give anything to see him soon.
“Hey, do you sense that?” Emersyn asked as she glanced around. She placed her hand on the hilt of her sword that rested at her side. She couldn’t help it, they were always having to prepare for the worst. “There’s someone nearby.”
The others perked up and began looking around, and Jeriah felt his flame begin to burn brighter. It was definitely Jakob, and he couldn’t believe it. Would he actually get to see his brother again? It just seemed impossible.
Jeriah glanced at her. “Doesn’t it feel familiar? It feels like Jakob,” he said as he smiled a little. Would they run into each other? Could they be walking towards each other right now? He almost felt like running in the direction of that energy, he was so desperate to see him after all this time.
“It does feel like Jakob,” Verity agreed. “But there’s someone with him. Probably another Monarch with how powerful the energy feels.”
Jeriah couldn’t help but feel invigorated. He started running because he felt like Jakob was just beyond this forest they were walking through. The trees were getting sparse now, indicating that they were at the end of it. He kept running until he burst out of the forest and into the gray skied daylight.
Dark clouds were in the distance threatening rain, and only a few miles away he could see the Monarchs castle looming there at the edge of the world; it sat on a cliff right before the deep, blue ocean. It was a beautiful sight that Jeriah had never imagined he would see again, but his gaze was caught by two figures in the distance that were trailing back from the hills and looked exhausted.
Jakob must have gone to the mountains to try and find him, but had turned around upon sensing that Jeriah wasn’t there anymore.
He couldn’t believe he was seeing his twin brother right now. The last time he had physically seen Jakob was when he was trapped in his cursed sleep, and he had promised him that he would save him. Tears immediately welled up in his eyes and he fell to his knees. He covered his face with his hands and just cried because he was so overwhelmed with emotion. He didn’t even fully understand what he was feeling, but it was a mix of relief and joy and shame. He couldn’t move, he could only cry.
He felt a hand touching his back and he heard Verity’s voice, but then he heard shouting and all sorts of noise but he just couldn’t move still. He finally started to rub his eyes on his sleeves and he began to look up only to see Jakob running towards him with tears in his eyes, too.
“Jeriah!” Jakob cried.
Jeriah slowly stood up, his legs definitely shaky, and he held his arms open. Jakob ran into his arms and Jeriah hugged him so tightly. He was real, he was really alive! He couldn’t believe it. He closed his eyes and just held him for as long as he could. Jakob’s hair was so wild and wavy and it tickled at the side of Jeriah’s face, but he didn’t care. He was just so relieved right now. He had done it. He had lived to see Jakob awake, alive, and healthy again.
He leaned back from the hug and put his hands on Jakob’s cheeks just to look him in the face. His eyes were clear and bright, despite being full of tears right now, and he looked fine. He looked just how Jeriah remembered him. He gently wiped tears off of his cheeks and just couldn’t help but giggle and smile.
“Jakob,” Jeriah smiled as he dropped his hands to Jakob’s shoulders. “My god...you really are alright, aren’t you?”
“I am,” Jakob nodded as he wiped away some stray tears. “I can’t believe...you’re alive.”
Jeriah smiled and laughed lightly because he was just so grateful to see him again. He hugged him one more time before finally letting him go and taking a moment to wipe away his tears and try to calm himself down.
“Have you guys run into a group of strong humans? They’re a group that call themselves the Royals,” Minhee was the other person that was with Jakob, and only now Jeriah managed to register that.
“No, but we ran into a couple of women who were guardians and also servants of Nivalis,” Kiyah explained. “They were really tough, but we stole one of their weapons so...at least they’re less armed than they were before.”
“Good,” Jakob sounded relieved. “Then you need to come with us. Right now.” He grabbed Jeriah’s arm and started walking with him.
“Why?” Jeriah asked. It was very jarring to be hugging his brother and excited one moment, to suddenly be afraid of something that Jakob and Minhee to be running from.
“The Royals are looking for you,” Minhee said as he looked at the whole group. “They have a contract with Prudentius to take something back that you stole.”
The Wanderers all automatically touched the necklaces they wore. They all looked at each other, and then finally at Minhee again.
“We know we probably won’t be able to avoid confrontation,” Zhai said with a small nod. “We’ve been hunted for a long time because of these...objects.”
“What objects?” Jakob asked. “Jeriah?” he looked concerned and Jeriah felt that heavy guilt weighing down on his heart. Why couldn’t their happy moment last longer? Reality couldn’t be avoided for long, it seemed.
“I had to do everything to try and save you,” Jeriah started slowly. “But I didn’t know how to save you from your cursed sleep, so I decided to find a way to...live longer.”
Jakob looked worried, his brow furrowing in his confusion. Jeriah had missed seeing Jakob’s adorable expressions, but he felt sorry for giving him this stress on the first day they saw each other again.
“What does that mean?” Minhee asked.
Jeriah pulled the stone around the ribbon out from under his shirt and held it on his palm for Minhee and Jakob to look at. “This is a Life Stone,” he said softly. “They were created by Renatus, the Immortal of Rebirth, and held in the Underworld by Prudentius because they knew these objects would be misused by mankind. I learned about them, and stole them, because...I felt like it was my only chance to be able to see you again.” He began to tear up again but he forced the tears back down. “And it worked. I’m seeing you right now.”
Jakob tilted his head. “Then all you have to do is give these Life Stones to the Royals and they can just go, right?” he asked.
“It might not be that simple,” Zhai said quietly.
Jakob saw all their darkened expressions and he quickly looked at Jeriah. “What is going to happen if you give up the Life Stones?” he asked.
“We might die,” Jeriah said. He knew there was no way to sugarcoat that sentence. “These Life Stones make us immortal, but without them we probably have nothing.”
“What!?” Jakob exclaimed and then he looked at Minhee with alarm. “Then...then you can’t give those up.”
“We’re going to have to eventually. We’re being pursued at every turn we make,” Kiyah spoke up. “And...I mean, we don’t really know what’s going to happen. That’s just what we’re assuming, you know? Maybe we’ll be fine.”
“Yeah,” Jeriah said with a small nod. “We don’t know, but I can’t help but imagine we’ve overstayed our welcome.”
“No,” Jakob took hold of Jeriah’s arm and then started to walk towards the castle in the distance again. “We’re gonna take you home and keep you safe. They won’t touch you.”
“Jakob, you need to think rationally about this for a minute-” Minhee started, but one look from Jakob silenced him. Jeriah was surprised how harsh his brother was, but he knew he must have just been afraid of the reality of their situation.
Once a guardian passed from this world, that was the end of their existence. There was no afterlife, no realm for a guardian spirit. Guardian spirits were burned by the flame that was their heart once they died, and that flame would then disappear. Nothing would be left.
“We’re not going to even consider giving them up to the Royals,” Jakob said firmly. “Not until we know what’s going to happen.”
“The only one who could give us those answers would be probably Renatus and Prudentius,” Verity pointed out. “But if we go down there, they’ll take these from us regardless of the outcome. So, I think it’s just something we need to accept.”
“I’m not going to accept that,” Jakob said firmly. “There is going to be an answer.” he looked at Jeriah. “I never thought I’d see you again, so I’m not going to let this be a short reunion. We need to be together, like the old days.”
Jeriah smiled a little, and he wanted that, too, but he wasn’t sure if that was something he would be given in his life. He just wasn’t sure, but he was willing to discover some answers with Jakob’s help, hopefully.
At the very least, he was going to enjoy every minute he had left with his brother.